I made a conscious decision a while back to stop visiting and reading the Wizards of the Coast forums. It was really a pre-emptive move before my family physician tired to place me on blood pressure medication or I found myself randomly rage punching strangers in the throat. I don’t know what the tipping point was, it might have been when the 5th ongoing thread around Alignment pooped up on the “What’s a DM to Do” sub-forum with the ubiquitous arguments about how to punish those who don’t’ act their alignment to how 4th editions sucks because there is no real alignment system to force players to act appropriately to what alignment is Batman (FYI he’s Lawful Good). I have never been one to post a ton on the forums and if I do so it’s only to answer a question or offer requested help. I don’t like to argue, sorry I mean debate, with anyone unless there is the threat of potential physical violence to moderate people’s responses and civility. Instead I just started a blog to use as my personal bully pulpit so I can spew whatever inane, ill informed, half-cocked bull shit that comes into my juvenile mind.
In a similar vein I have been avoiding any participation with D&D Next whether that being the ongoing play test or the forum talk. The only exception has been that I read Mike Mearls’ weekly Legends and Lore column. It is just enough of a toe in the water that I can use as fodder for my inane, ill informed, and half-cocked rants. When I read the February 18th offering I audibly sighed and groaned at my desk, so much so that my office mates thought that something that actually mattered had occurred, like my wife was leaving me or someone had died. What irked me so was his statement that they were going back to the cleric as the default healer for the game on account it was the easiest solution to the divergent pleas emanating from the play test and a desire by the design team to keep the core rules of the game simple… and well gosh darn it people are just used to it being that way anyways…..well BLAH
I don’t know what irked me so much about this, other than I hated the default heal-bot approach of editions yore. It just seems so regressive or placating or defeatist, I don’t know. He then went on to point out that there can be lots of modular add-ons that can change the nature/amount of healing available in the game. Again my office mates looked over at my audible groan and sigh and I again had to sheepishly explain that yes this reaction was for nothing evenly remotely serious or important.
I am really starting to sour on this modularity thing that they seem to be using as a blanket answer to soothe any edition war hackles. I haven’t even seen what this vaunted modularity will look like but I already hate it with a white hot irrational anger. It smacks of cowardice, although maybe that’s a little harsh. I don’t want a million options or a need to cobble together levels of complexity to get a game that I want to play. I just want one set of rules that encompasses the whole game and if I like it I’ll play and if not I won’t. Trying to make everyone happy or maybe more accurately preventing them from being pissed off just seems like a recipe for a shit game. I don’t know what the answer is for them, but I guess this is the consequence of trying to continuously re-package and sell the same rules. Don’t get me wrong I am still going to buy the core rules cause really what else am I going to do with my money. I am just not looking forward to it.
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I finally found a way to do it. It wasn’t easy though. It took a lot of skill, charm, and ruthless determination, but I managed to win at D&D. While I was in San Diego at the Comic Con I fought my way through the seething masses (40,000 + a day) to the ballroom hosting rpg play. It was slim pickings with only D&D 4th Edition and Pathfinder being offered, but none the less the place was packed. On the D&D side of things they were offering LFR mods, learn to play with the red box, and 1 hour delves. It was the later that scratched my itch as I found out you could earn points based on team performance that could be traded in for loot. Basically you earned points for monsters killed and encounters completed within the hour time limit. As I lazily scanned the loot table my eyes popped out of my head like some cartoon character getting a glimpse of Bugs Bunny in drag (on a side note does anyone else see that as an erection metaphor or is that just me and my juvenile default to cock?) as I spotted the condition cards. Now the thing is you can’t actually buy these things anywhere as they were originally created as DM rewards back in the day, trust me I have tired. This always seemed strange to me given the prevalence of conditions in the game and a little bit of ball dropping or fondling on WoTC’s part, particularly since the other more popular and better looking half of the company is a card making machine. The great thing about these cards is the awesome artwork on each one depicting and action scene in which said condition is being applied.
When my friend and I sat down at the table we were joined by the standard motley crew, the type of cat that frequents the dark corners of cons, you know a real nerds nerd. With so much riding on the outcome I needed to take stock of the situation and see what kind of hand I had been dealt. I was a little worried when 2 of the players turned out to be relative noobs. That left my sidekick (who I have personally trained in the ways of the 4th edition) and a young dude who said his group stuck with 3.5. He was wearing a paper Magic the Gathering crown and spoke with a little too much denial so I had a hunch he was sandbagging. Something needed to be done as I had a horrific vision of my precious condition cards slowly tumbling from my hands. So I took charge. I quickly and nonchalantly put forth the treatise on focused fire and subtly maneuvered myself into one of the striker pre-gens. What followed was the worst display of bossy boots I have ever witnessed at a gaming table. I was all over the place with “helpful hints, reminders and suggestions”. It was slightly shameful but as the final seconds ticked down and the BBEG fell like a sac of doorknobs I knew I had achieved my goal; I had won at D&D. When the volunteer placed those cards in my hand I felt like Robert Duval in Apocalypse Now as he surveyed the napalmed beach and heard his voice echo in my head “it smells like..victory”.
So that’s it for this week. I will probably post more about the comic con next time with some pictures when I am back into the non-vacation routine.
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“Give me the loot”…man I love me some Free RPG Day. I have a pretty good relationship with one of the many FLGS’ I frequent and have parlayed that into goodies galore, such as the new Lair Assault: Spider Killer and first dibs on the spoils of Free RPG Day. It’s one of the perks of being and old neck beard that still buys printed books from an actual store, plus I can be a pretty charming mother fucker when I try.
I agreed to run the D&D adventure at the store as you know how I love to mingle with the sweaty, stinky, Dorito stained masses. The adventure was your basic delve scenario featuring a Beholder as the big bad mofo. The presentation, like all of WOTC’s products, was fantastic. There were several things that made the adventure less than ideal for public play and I think WOTC kind of dropped the ball on this. Although given that they are on to bigger and better things with “Next” I still think you want to maximize any opportunity for people to sit down and play your product, especially first timers. The biggest problem was the lack of pre-generated characters coupled with the adventure being in the 8th-10th level range. Making 7 level 9 characters was a super pain in my ass and took away from actual adventure prep. The relatively high level of the adventure/characters also had me slightly concerned if I ended up having to teach the game to any noobs. I went with all Essentials classes to reduce the complexity and ease the generation workload. In terms of adventure design, I thought the monsters were interesting (I was looking foreword to having a cave roper eat someone while talking like Kang and Kodos from the Simpsons) but with a lot of fussy powers that synergized well together. They definitely gave off that far realm vibe but I was worried they might be difficult to run, especially if I needed to divide attention teaching noobs or less experienced players the ropes.
It turned out to be moot as of the 6 guys that showed up to play, 2 refused to have anything to do with 4th Edition (one hadn’t even tired the system before but was just going on what he had heard). I had never seen that kind of edition warring and hatred right there onFront Street, it was kind of funny. I mean the one guy was super rigid and a little anal retentive (I spent the afternoon playing with him) so I could see a lack of flexibility and a very black and white mentality. I really don’t get it though, unless the core mechanic of the game is the DM pulling his cock out and beating me in the face with it I will pretty much play anything, especially for a one shot.
So the owner ended up running the Pathfinder offering, which is also pretty slick and included pre-gens. I actually got to play for a change which was way cool. I went with Valeros, who is the Pathfinder iconic fighter. I really enjoyed playing and thought the adventure was good, but I felt the final showdown was a bit of a grind. We faced off against some kind of demononess who was pretty tuff. I don’t mind a hard fight but her AC was so high that I as the badass melee fighter had only a 15% chance of landing a blow. The cleric was kind enough to give me the old shocker and buff my ass up with Bulls Strength, but that still left me with only a 25% chance to hit (35% when flanking). No one could hit the monster. The fight wore on with us essentially surrounding it and whiffing at it while the wizard plugged it with his wand of magic missiles. Despite the little bit of grind at the end it was all and all a very enjoyable time. Hopefully the store can scare up enough people for me to run the Lair Assault cause I love being given the green light to stomp a character’s face into the ground
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I think I must be voyeuristic by nature. It’s likely what pushed me in the direction of becoming a psychologist. With the coming of “Next” it also has me transfixed on the forum boards, mesmerized by the bickering and bile being spewed back and forth. I think what I find most amusing are the cats that hated 4th edition, all puffed up with self-importance, like the coming of “Next” is a validation of their hate and proof that WOTC was wrong and now must grovel at their feet.
I don’t buy it for a second that 4th edition wasn’t financially successful. I also think it helped to significantly grow the hobby in very crowded entertainment environment dominated by video games. People look at the successes of Pathfinder as evidence of 4th edition financially underperforming and the “split” of the player base, but I think that ignores those that have purchased and played both, people like me. Another claim of 4th edition suckage is its short edition cycle. I guess I would counter this with the fact that the business landscape is dramatically different than what the previous editions faced, particularly being a publishing business in the era of digital piracy. When I was involved in D&D Encounters I couldn’t believe the number of virgin players that showed up to pop their d20 cherries, mostly young guns, and I was equally amazed that virtually none of them ever bought a book. Oh they had all the products, usually stored on whatever mobile device they were carrying at the time. I am beginning to believe only old fucktatrds like me buy actual books anymore, although I would gladly purchase a pdf alongside my hardback copy if WOTC is listening. I also think that WOTC had run out of design space in 4th edition. I mean really, I don’t know what else they could have possible sold us at this point. It’s partially a consequence of their diarrhea style release schedule, plus nothing sells quite as good as the core books of a new edition.
I have sniffed around the D&D Next playtest package and I can honestly say that I have no desire to playtest or play that game. It doesn’t look bad, it looks exactly like what it is proposing to be, a very rules light, old school vibe system with some tweaks. It reminds me a lot of Castles and Crusades, particularly in how they handle skills, saving throws, and “contests” which seems to mirror the “SIEGE” engine. I guess for me, if I really want play with old school nostalgia I would just play with the original material or a retro clone. I realize that this is the base core rules and that they are going to hang optional rules modules on it like some kind of giant gaming Christmas tree, so I want to wait and see what some of the more tactical options are before I make a real yeah or nay. My speculation is that the souped up version will look a lot like 3.5/Pathfinder so I am not sure how much that will entice me to throw money at it. I am also curious about the packaging and how they are going to manage these so called “modules”. I mean are they going to be in the core rule book? Or are they going to go with separate books for a lot of these things? If they do that it seems like it might be very confusing for new players and if it costs me more to get the game I want than the previous core books that might seriously give me a case of the old red eye. In the end I am kind of left wondering how long you can continue to re-package rules with some tweakage and survive.
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Does it get any better, as a DM, seeing your players shit their pants as they watch their characters drop like a sac of doorknobs and bleed out all over the battle mat? I think not. I guess collaborative storytelling, character growth, and making the players feel like super bad mofo’s that catches bullets with their teeth is alright, but between you and me I think I still prefer the old brown note moments.
One of the fair criticisms of 4th edition is the length of combats and to a lesser degree combat grind. I have been experimenting with combat and encounter design over the past little while to try and tweak the grind a bit. I had to make a conscious decision to move away from making every combat a set piece battle and allowing for smaller skirmishes that fit the story better. For example, if the players were going to get rolled by thugs I would be okay with using 2 lower level dudes instead of a “gang of 4 to 5” to make a balanced encounter. I also started using higher level mooks but less of them to create quicker but still damaging fights.
I kicked it up a notch this past weekend and got me some of that brown notey goodness. I was inspired by Frothsof 4E and his musings on monster design and threat level. He had a post (it doesn’t seem to be up anymore) were he adapted and old 1st edition module that had a lot of solo monsters. He modified the solos into a sort of elite/solo hybrid that would give decent challenge and play quicker to prevent grinding the adventure to a halt. His tinkering definitely scratched an itch for me as I like using solo monsters but often feel like the combat can take forever and with little threat (even with many of the post MM3 solos). I needed a badass assassin to challenge the entire party, but I wanted it to be quick and dirty after the Paladin sees the head of his order gutted in front of him.
So I made an “elite solo” and added some of the design concepts that Frothsof outlined. The “Night Hawk” actually exceeded my expectations and I was rewarded with some brown notey goodness with multiple “holy shits” and “this guy is way tougher than I thought he was going to be” and “you seem to be mentioning cock a lot today” (which is not really relevant here but still a valid observation). The Night Hawk ended up being a pretty good challenge for my party of four 9TH level characters as he bloodied everyone and dropped the cleric and the ranger before the Paladin finally cut him down. The battle was also super quick so I will definatly utilize this style of monster in the future. You can check him out below:
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Betcha thought this post was going to be about D&D Next…not yet it’s too soon, my thoughts are a maelstrom, I need to center myself. Until then please refer to this post by Mr. Morrison over at The Rhetorical Gamer as he appears to be some kind of thought thief, slipping into my bedroom as I lay sleeping and dancing away with my thoughts and feelings.
I have finally settled on a game to run online and so I thought I would natter about it for a bit. I going all Dark Sun as there is just something about that setting that draws me to it. I recently finished Robert Schwalb’s Death Mark (it was excellent by the way –spoiler- someone gets their cock eaten by a Halfling) and downloaded the old Prism Pentad series by Troy Denning to my Kobo (kindle equivalent for you non-canucks out there) as primers.
I am structuring (a nicer way to say restricting) the game a little to keep with that Dark Sun goodness. Playable races are limited to Human, Elf, Dwarf, Mull, Thri-Kreen, Eladrin, Goliath, Half-Elf, Halfling, Dragonborn, and Tiefling. I really hummed and hawed about the last two but given the way class and race interact in 4th edition not having them seemed a little overly punitive. Inherent bonuses are in and should cut down a little on the redonk twink factor. I am implementing a House Rule on rituals designed most excellently by Mr. Neuroglyph in order to encourage their use and give a little old school flavor.
I also codified a social contract for the game that will be passed out with the player materials:
“The single most important goal of the game is for it to be fun for everyone. All game decisions will be based on this goal. To quote Spock “the needs of the many out way the needs of the few, or the one…. I have been and ever shall be your friend”…..well mostly the first part. So if something becomes unfun for group we will strive to correct that. By all means bring your twinked up badass but if something becomes an issue and creates unfun then we will need to address it, after of course celebrating your mastery of the game and ability to reduce me to tears. This contact goes both ways, as if my DM’ing is so atrocious and oppressive that I need to be replaced in a bloody coup then so be it.”
I am also going to push myself a little on the DM side of things as I am going to try and wing it a little bit (once again slightly influenced by Mr. Rhetorical Gamer). I have been trying to jot down some NPC’s and anticipatory ideas, sort of how I might react to certain things, but I am going to try and work with what the players come up with..sort of…well as best I can given my meager skills and online medium. I am not going to lie to you It could end up being quite a train wreck.
I am about to start recruitment so if any of you out there in the interwebs want to throw some bones or just enjoy train wrecks let me know.
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The king is dead, long live the king. I just picked up my copy of Into the Unknown: The Dungeon Survival Handbook which appears to be the last print product that will contain 4th edition specific crunchy goodness. Everything else in the product catalogue seems to be edition neutral leading up to when D&D Next/5th edition/whatever arrives.
I also checked out this weeks Legends and Lore article by Mr. Mearls which gave me a bit of a chuckle. It was about healing and hit points in the next edition. They seemed to have tweaked healing surges and grognardishly re-named them Hit Dice as not to offend certain delicate sensibilities. This just makes me think that they’re so fucked in a dammed if you do and dammed you don’t manner. So if you hated healing surges and martial healing with white hot nerd rage, well we did too that’s why we changed it do Hit Dice. What you loved healing surges and thought it was the greatest innovation in modern gamming, well us to that’s why these Hit Dice things are essentially just tweaked healing surges. As an aside, given that I am an honorry ”Evil GM” I am all for anything that makes the pc’s less durable. I really just want the designers to say fuck it and stop trying to appease people on either side of the lines and just go balls deep and make the best game they can. Who cares if it implodes in a fiery mess and D&D gets shelved for a bit, dare to be Icarus and fly as close to the sun as you can. Stop getting input from all us jerk wads and neck beards, we can’t agree on crap anyways and there is never any real consensus except that everything is shit if it’s not what I want.
Anyways back to Into the Unknown: The Dungeon Survival Handbook. I haven’t given it a good read yet as I am gearing up for a Dark Sun game and have been voraciously consuming like material. I wanted to post about a really cool section of the book called Infamous Dungeons. The breakdown is that the authors detail several modules from the past editions of D&D. They give a breakdown of the module, ideas to continue the story, and then tie a few character themes to the module. I don’t know what it was but just seeing the pictures of those old modules made me geekasm a little. I love the idea of continuing these adventures, now I just need them too painstakingly and in great detail show me how, as what was presented in the book was like that free first taste of smack that the dealer offers you.
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I have been thinking a lot about D&D Next lately and I find myself awash in a sea of ambivalence. On the one hand I really want Dungeons and Dragons to be successful but every move I get from WOTC these days just plucks my strings, like they have found a raw nerve and are continuously digging a finger in. Now before I go any further in this shooting-from-the-hip soap-box rant I will without a doubt buy next edition and probably find enjoyment in it. Although, in fairness it is not hard to get me to buy an rpg as I will pretty much buy one out of boredom not unlike the emotional eater that inhales bags of chips to settle their nerves.
I have no doubt that they will make a good game, these are some talented designers, but I just have this overwhelming feeling of “who gives a fuck”. This probably has to do with the staggering short turnaround on editions that is the modus operandi for WOTC these days, coupled with their product release style which is the equivalent of dropping trou and shitting out a metric ton of material on their fans. Maybe I am just fatigued by it all, as I really don’t have an edition warrior bone in my body. I am not really for or against any edition or play style, I will play anything, and D&D to me is any edition I am playing and enjoying, not one style over another. I guess I am just against WOTC/Hasbro and their corporate policies.
I have been reading the legends and lore articles, which probably isn’t good for my agita, and it isn’t that I am upset or disagree with what they are doing, or seem to be doing because who really knows until the actually product comes out, but it’s more why are they doing it. The big buzz line is to play any style game you want from 1st edition to 4th edition. Don’t we already have that? Ah but yes they aren’t making any money on that, plus they counter with they are cleaning up the clunky parts of older play styles. Isn’t this what house rules are for? Then they flash the tagline that you can play any style of character at the same table from an early edition character right up to a 4th edition style character. Really, this is what you’re hanging your hat on? I am again left with the feeling of “who gives a fuck”. That sounds like a nightmare to DM, it probably won’t be but you know I am naturally pessimistic. I am just left thinking that D&D Next is really the edition that no one was asking for.
One of the goals of this edition is to end the edition wars, a laudable but ridiculous goal, and a bit of a rope-a –dope. It is really to get money from people who are no longer paying them to play D&D because they already have the game they want and enjoy. I think they underestimate the strength of the OSR/Pathfinder cliques, because they are cliques within a clique which fosters a rabid devotion. WOTC isn’t dumb, they are smart people, and they must have thought extensively about this, I just wonder if it will work out well enough for them. Will they bring enough people back to offset those they might drive away? I don’t know. It might be a wash or worse a deficit. Maybe they are counting on making up lost sales by absolutely punishing the completest by pounding them with modularity. Although, I guess you can never underestimate the power of the new shinny. If they are really interested in curbing edition wars a pretty solid way to reduce them might be to have less editions, but what do I know….pretty much nothing.
End rant…. more positive next time I promise
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“Wars over man. Wormer dropped the big one”……that’s right, Wizards has announced the next iteration of Dungeons and Dragon and their claiming that it will be the edition to end all editions. No more warring or flaming needed. It is said to comprise the best of all editions, with modular madness allowing you to create almost any play style/edition you could dream of, including the elusive snuffleupagus edition, rumoured to be the one “true” D&D but which always seemed too have just finished when you sat down at the table. Talk about shooting for the moon.
I am a little ambivalent about this announcement. On the one hand I want Dungeons and Dragons to be massively successful, so successful that it becomes required curriculum in schools, so successful that is attributed to bringing about world peace. So I hope this next edition of the game is way super awesome. I do worry that when you try and sell it as the answer to all things that you are somewhat inviting disappointment. I am also pretty sure that I will enjoy playing the game just as I have with every other edition of the game with the exception of 2nd edition (these were my Runequest and Champions years).
What sours my excitement about the announcement is that 4 to 5 years for the life of an edition seems somewhat thin to me. Maybe I would feel differently if I started playing when 4th edition first dropped instead of 2 years into the cycle, but now I can better empathize with how some cats felt that were heavily invested in 3.x when they announced 4th edition. As a consumer I just feel fatigued. I look at the metric ton of books I have for this edition (I am still waiting on some items I have ordered) and the thought of starting over next year is a little unsettling. I am going to be smart about it this time and buy less stuff, and only stuff that I think I will use. At least that is the plan but I have talked before about my tendency to impulsively throw money at things, so will see. I also feel that Wizards were just hitting their stride with 4th edition, and were putting out their best books this past year.
What would I like to see in the next iteration of the D&D? Whatever it looks like I hope they keep the ease with which 4th edition made being a Dungeon Master. I also want them to strive for fewer errata, perhaps the big open play test will help with this. One of my biggest disappointments with 4th edition was the required update to monster stats and damage that left me feeling like I couldn’t use a lot of the products I bought without extra work, and you know how I frown on that.
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I have been following the Legends and Lore articles, originally written by Mike Mearls and currently written by Monte Cooke, over at Wizards of the Coast’s website since their inception. The main thrust of the articles is to provide some kind of insight into the thinking and processes that the designers are going through with regards to the future direction of the game. One theme that keeps getting batted around is the concept of modularity and how it may factor into the next iteration of D&D.
So what is this modularity they speak of? Well it seems what they are talking about is having a basic rule set of D&D or chassis if you will, and then you the DM/play group have the option of adding these optional rule sets or modules to create the type of game experience you desire. This is generally couched in level of complexity terms, for example if you want a more complex simulation experience then keep adding modules until your happy and vice versa. My first thought was how much is that going to fucking cost me given that I will of course need to purchase the full monty so I don’t have to live with crippling feelings of inadequacy. I am sure it is going to be more than the equivalent PHB, DMG, MM from previous editions.
Then I had some other ideas (some of them albeit tangential and vaguely sexual which I‘ll not share) around what these modules might include. Now I could be wrong, as I frequently am, but one of the goals of the next edition has to be to reclaim a lot of cats that didn’t make the transition to fourth edition or tried it and jumped ship. What would entice these players back into the WoTC fold? I think one of the modules might just be the Vancian magic system. Is that even possible? I don’t know, I have absolutely no game design skill whatsoever (my modifier would be -15 to any checks) or business acumen (hence psychologist). The way I see it though, at the heart of some individuals rejection of 4th edition, aside from coming to early in order to keep the money machine rolling, is that it didn’t feel like good old D&D to them. This was primarily due to the removal of the Vancian system in favor of the power system and subsequent effect on character progression i.e. multi-classing and balance. So would it even be possible to have the 4th edition power system as a module alongside the Vancian magic system module for people to choose between and place over the basic game rule set? I have no idea whatsoever. All I can say is that Wizards is in a precarious position going forward as any significant change with the current system has the real risk of splitting the customer base yet again without bringing back significant numbers of lapsed players. Definitely between a rock and a hard place, it will be interesting to see what shakes out.
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